Copyright © 2005 Tom Ludvigson. All rights reserved.
CHAPTER 5: SULU IN NEW ZEALAND 27.12.75 - 27.3.76
5.1 Reversed roles
5.2 Ria, tamate and aviriza
5.6 Sulu's gift
5.7Matalesi and avuavuti
5.10 Patua's bisnes
5.11 The end of patua
5.12 Patua attack
5.1 Reversed roles
I now had a kleva with me in New Zealand. Sulu stayed with me and my family the entire three months, sharing our home, our meals and our everyday activities, much as I had lived with Lisa's family in Kuvutana Most of that period we spent in Auckland, Sulu dividing his time between the house in Titirangi and the university, where a number of pidgin-speakers at the Department of Anthropology helped to make him feel welcome: there he was shy, polite, and spoke little unless spoken to.
Officially Sulu was my assistant, a language informant brought to New Zealand to help me in my studies of Kiai. But in conversations he explicitly compared himself with me: just as I had gone to study the way of life of his home, so he had come to learn the customs where I lived.
Accordingly I tried to help him as much as possible in this endeavour, returning favours granted me on Santo.
I drove him around the city of Auckland, pointing out the more impressive feats of engineering, such as the huge downtown office blocks, and the Harbour Bridge.
I guided him through the Museum of Transport and Technology, and the War Memorial Museum - large collections of artefacts and specimens from all over the world and all periods of history.
We went together to a South Auckland factory, where bales of wool were turned into consumer products by people working industriously at complicated machines - automatic washing, carding, dyeing, spinning, weaving and felting, with piles of folded blankets in a store-room at the end of the line.
On the trip to the East Coast, visiting my in-laws, Sulu got acquainted with farm life, dipping sheep, and watching them being shorn with buzzing hand pieces; the wool packed into bales.
Though it was not until half-way through our stay that we started doing any systematic work together, I learned a lot by just having Sulu nearly constantly in my company. When on our own we spoke Kiai most of the time, which made for good language practice, and my vocabulary and fluency kept increasing, despite by being away from Santo. I also asked Sulu numerous questions about his home in casual conversations, keeping a record of new information in a notebook, much as had been my practice while in the field.
It occurred to me that it would be good to tape-record some of our discussions. Minimally it would provide me with a Kiai text for linguistic analysis; but I also hoped to be able to record, in the vernacular, explanations of some of the practices of Sulu's homeland that I was still only beginning to understand.
At first I felt reluctant to ask him about making tape-recordings. Sulu was the man who had challenged me about "stealing" his voice for profit in my early days at Vorozenale. But when I asked him, he readily agreed to answer questions with the tape recorder going, seemingly accepting my explanation that it would save a lot of note-taking at the time, while providing me with a permanent record of our conversation that I could consult later for detail, as I pleased.
I was glad to get his permission, and resolved then to bring up for discussion with the tape-recorder running the topic of his being a kleva. Until then I had avoided it - being so firmly convinced that Sulu was a cheat I expected it to be a sensitive area to pry into, and I thought that he might not want to talk about it at all.
There had indeed been little that had happened since we came to New Zealand by which to recognise Sulu`s special talent. Only once, when I was plagued by a particularly nasty cough, did he display his diagnostic skill. He told me that I had stepped on some ashes from a singed leaf used to cure someone else of the cough back on Santo - that was how I got it.
Sulu elaborated: leaves were held in a fire and then rubbed on the patient. The ashes were collected on another leaf, bundled up and later thrown away in a known location on the far side of Truvos, where no one ever walks. But some could have fallen on the path on the way there, after the cure was applied to Lino recently. This was the explanation fro my ailment. Popoi Trivu knew the remedy; he could cure me on our return to Kuvutana.
5.2 Ria, tamate and aviriza.
More than a week ahead of the first tape session I made a list of all my field note entries that had to do with sickness in one way or another, so as to get an overview of what I had learnt so far, trying to isolate some areas for further inquiry. I wanted to make use of what I thought of as Sulu's expertise in the field, expecting him to be able to provide answers to some puzzles.
One thing that stood out on my list was the several references to spirits "talking" as a cause of disease. This is how the tamate made people ill, according to Lahoi, and Maitui had made the same claim for both aviriza and ria. But on the few occasions when someone had actually made a diagnosis of my own health along those lines, they had used Bislama, blaming a man i ded - a "dead man" - or a devel, without being more specific about what kind of being it was. About halfway through our first recording sessions, after a long discussion of marriage practices, I brought the subject up for comment.
"When a child is ill because, as they say in Bislama, wan devel emi stap talem nem blong em ("a spirit is speaking his name”), and this makes him ill."
"How do they say it in Kiai?"
"Ria mo vara inia", said Sulu. "Ria."
"Ria mo vara inia." 'A ria talked about him'.
"And tamate likewise?"
"Yes, like two names."
Mhm." Two names... did he mean that they were the same? But Maitui had told me that they were different! "No, but ria is one thing and tamate another!"
"No, just one! It has two names."
"Is that so?" I could hardly believe my ears, so completely had I accepted Maitui's interpretation.
"Yes", said Sulu, laughing at my astonishment.
"Really?" I felt confused and unsettled by this contradiction, and my old doubts about Sulu's integrity instantly reasserted themselves. Was he deliberately trying to mislead me, I wondered to myself. No other explanation seemed likely - unless, of course, there had been some misunderstanding.
Sulu didn't reply: the laughter subsided, he remained silent.
I tried again: "True? But I thought a ria was something that ... like, they lived by streams." I remembered this from my conversation with Maitui.
"Yes, that's right. Something that lives by streams. That's the one they call by two names."
"But I thought a tamate was a dead man - a dead man, like ... "
"Yes, but they just call it that. Ria, tamate."
"Are all the ria that live by streams just the dead?"
"Yes, I think so." Sulu sounded vague.
"I don't know! I don't know; I don't know that. I don’t know."
"And again, this ... aviriza. Just dead men that speak the names of children and they become ill?"
"Yes, but it is just like the other one. Just ria."
"Mhm." Another revelation - or deception..? "go on!"
"Yes, it has three names, as aviriza is like, in another language from another place they call it that."
"Mhm. But I thought that they called them aviriza when ... like, aviriza ... when a man doesn't die of himself, like if they kill a man - ".
"- his life -"
"Yes! That is its name - like, if they kill - yes, true, when they kill a man they call it that. Aviriza."
"Mhm. Like his life." I used the word mauri, 'life' or 'soul'.
"And I hear they say that there is another name for them; a bad name. Like, they don't say it. They say the name aviriza, but the other name is not used, as it attracts aviriza."
"Mhm. Two names."
"But all these things, like we... they only talk about them," continued Sulu. "We have just heard about them; we haven't seen them. We have only heard stories that they tell about them. We don't see them. We haven't seen people being killed...like... being shot. We don't see things. When they used to eat people - we haven't seen it. We only hear stories about it."
That sounded familiar - it was the same disclaimer that Lahoi had used when telling me some tales about "devils" during my first field trip. Perhaps I had misjudged Sulu - his simplifications could genuinely be a product of his own skepticism rather than to deceive.
I dropped the topic, and for a while we talked about the ins and outs of dispute settlement. That subject exhausted I asked Sulu about another item on my list: the taboos imposed in connection with illness. Krai Tui had referred me to "they that dream" - the kleva - for an explanation. Now was my chance.
"When someone is ill, I hear they say some people don't eat certain things. Like, some people they don't eat prawns, or ...river fish, and such like. I don't know how that works."
"They taboo them because... they eat them and they become ill. They do it just like that. If they don't eat it, then they will not get ill quickly."
"Yes, that's how it works."
"But if they don't eat it, can they touch it? Or no - you don't touch it?"
"They don't eat it, but they can touch it. They can pick it up."
"Yes. Just food. That's all."
"Mhm. Then you'll ... if they are ill -"
Sulu interrupted: "A man takes a leaf. He takes his leaf and says: 'This is my leaf. If you eat it and get well your taboo will be not to eat these things'."
"Mhm. Aha. A taboo for - "
"Like you don't eat prawns, or ... you don't eat coconuts. This means that you will stay well for a long time, like it will be two or three years before you'll get ill again."
"But if you eat it soon again, then you will become ill again."
"Mhm. It works just like that. That's all there is to it."
"Mhm. Then, for one illness one thing is tabooed, and for another illness something else?"
"Mhm. Yes ... like, for two leaves he will place two taboos."
"Yes. If he is using them with spells."
"I see! They are not taboos for diseases, they are taboos for leaves!"
"I see. Then, one disease, one leaf; another disease -"
"Yes, like the medicine that you hand out, saying: 'This medicine is for fighting this disease. And I'll give your this medicine here too, for this other disease.' Like both together. Like, when a man is ill, we know that it is not one sickness. If he falls ill today, go and see him today. But tomorrow ... after two or three days, he will have three diseases, or four."
"If without delay you take just one leaf, you'll stop that one illness that only just started that day."
"It's like that medicine that they take; it's like that. I think."
Sulu was talking in terms of a multitude of diseases, but I only knew words for a few in Kiai. Apart from the word zalo, meaning "disease" in general, there was sova, "cough"; paturiau, literally "tree stump", but also the name for leprosy; and mataioro, what I had guessed might be epilepsy from Usa Pon's description. I decided to try to elicit more names for diseases, by simply asking Sulu what kinds there were. I had already employed this technique quite successfully in collecting Kiai names for kinds of domestic plants and animals, but this time the result was not very spectacular.
"Well, I don't know the names of diseases in Kiai. I know them in English only, like I've learned to do medical work. I only know the names of diseases in English. What kinds of diseases are there in Kiai?" I used the word zalo.
"They say zalo i ria."
"Zalo i ria?" 'Ria - sickness'.
"Yes. And then they say simply mo zalo." 'He is ill'. "Two names, like that."
"Now, the men that... make spells, they fetch their leaves. Then they taboo the things, saying: 'You may not eat this leaf of mine that I have given'."
"He says: 'If you don’t eat this leaf, then you won't get ill again for a long time.` It's like that, simply."
"They say zalo. And then zalo i ria."
"Zalo i ria."
"And then zalo. Just two names like that. I've heard it like that."
Further questioning didn't get me beyond those two labels: there was only one kind of zalo i ria - called malaria in Bislama, said Sulu - and only one kind of ordinary zalo. Again I felt uneasy - Sulu denied knowledge of any more diseases, but had still not mentioned any of those I already knew from my time on Santo: paturiau, mataioro and sova.
"I hear people talking about paturiau. Is that an illness, or what is it?" Again I used the word zalo.
"Paturiau they call the people with lepros, as they call it in Bislama, that go to Lolowai." The lepers' colony at Lolowai on nearby Aoba - formerly Lepers' Island - was widely known, even in the remote Santo interior.
"But is it, like, in Kiai, just zalo, or is it not zalo?"
"No, it is not zalo. they call it zalo tei."
"Zalo tei." I knew tei meant 'bad' in Kiai - was a `bad disease` not a disease then? I felt I was getting nowhere.
"They call it that zalo tei", said Sulu.
"The Tohsiki-speakers call it nu ronz longgolonggo; nu ronz."
"Nu ronz." Longgolonggo was Tohsiki for 'bad', like Kiai tei. So nu ronz meant just zalo?
Sulu confirmed my suspicions: "When you are ill, they call it that. Nu ronz."
"This that they call zalo tei, in Sursur. They call it ... nu patuida."
Sursur was just another name for Tohsiki, the language of our neighbours from across the Ari river. I tasted the word: "patuida."
"Yes", said Sulu, laughing at my attempt at Tohsiki.
“Paturiau", I continued - they must be straight translations of each other.
"Yes, paturiau. Just the same."
"And what kinds of zalo tei are there? Only one?"
"I see." Another dead end.
I was just about to change the subject and ask about another disease, when Sulu interrupted:
"Zalo tei now, like he's caught a bad, bad illness. He can't get well now, and with time they ... This illness has gone inside him and he's feeding it. He lives on for a while, with time he'll die. This is why they go to Lolowai."
“There is another illness they call mataioro. What is it? Mataioro?" This was the disease that Usa Pon had told me about.
Five seconds passed in silence. Then:
"Ah ... nu nataior." Sulu laughed.
"Yes. They call it that in Sursur. Na mataioro."
"But we keep hearing it from them, this na mataioro!"
"Aha. But what kind of illness is it?"
"I don't know! They just call it that. I don't know about matai ... matai ... mataioro."
Sulu must have remembered suddenly: "Mata - yes! Mataioro is like when a man is ... yes, a man, when he is out walking, he sees something dead ... on the track, like a rat of whatever you may come across, then ... like in Bislama, their totonos gets you."
"Mhm." So totonos was Bislama! Not so strange, then, that Usa Pon had told me that he didn't know the word ...
"Like, its smell reaches you and goes inside your nose, and you catch its sickness."
"Yes, that's it."
"They call it totonos in Bislama, but in Kiai?"
"A rono na ponana." 'They smell its smell'.
"Mhm ... just ponana." 'Its smell'.
I paused to write in my jotter. After half a minute's silence Sulu remembered another name for a disease:
"The one they called zalo i ria, yes, a zalo. Just zalo vulavula. Just the one they call zalo i ria. Just people shaking."
"Zalo vulavula." This was new to me. I knew vula to mean 'moon', but had never heard it reduplicated.
"Yes, there are three names like that. Yes, I just thought of zalo vulavula."
"Mhm." I paused to think that over. "Is zalo vulavula just zalo i ria?"
"Mhm. And plain zalo, does it not have another name? Just plain zalo?"
"Just plain zalo. It doesn't have another name - I haven't heard any."
"Sova, is that zalo or not zalo?" Sova was Kiai for 'cough'.
"Just sova, I've heard sova." Sulu clarified in Bislama: "Like, you cough now!"
"Sova is zalo, or is it not zalo?"
"It is not zalo. You say na sova." 'I cough'.
"Mhm. I see." Frustrated, I gave up my attempt at uncovering some order among the Kiai words for diseases. Sulu seemed to treat them all as unrelated individuals - every named ailment was its own kind, singular and unique. But there were other matters to explore: "And what makes a man cough? What is its cause?"
"Because he has a taboo on something", said Sulu.
"A taboo on something, so you can't eat that for ... a year or two. If you eat it again soon, then you will cough again, you will get ill again."
"Mhm." So to cough was to get ill, after all? Sulu just used the words sova and zalo as if it was so ...
"Yes, if you eat your taboo again, then it begins again, that's how it is. You will get ill again."
"Is that all?"
I abandoned the topic, and after a few more questions about other matters we stopped for a break. It was high time - Sulu was beginning to show signs of impatience. No doubt he was growing tired of my incessant questioning.
I was a little disappointed with the results of our discussion. Though Sulu had provided at least partial answers to some past puzzles, he had turned out to be less an expert on diseases and their causes than I had imagined. His explanation of the food taboos seemed to me shallow - I had hoped for some clue to why those foods were deemed risky after maumau. Whether a product of skepticism, ignorance, or ulterior motives, his discrimination in the realm of spirits was less refined than for example Maitui's. And his vocabulary of diseases appeared equally limited - at least when approached in the abstract, with formal questions.
Perhaps it was my own fault - particularly when probing Sulu's disease vocabulary I felt as if I was chasing my own tail. I defined the problems and chose the questions, leaving for Sulu only to respond as best he could, however peculiar, abstract, or incomprehensible beside the point my queries may have seemed to him. And the value of his responses seemed doubtful, when his unselfconscious speech belied his assertions, as with the issue over sova being a zalo.
I knew Sulu was special; he was a kleva. I had understood this to mean primarily expertise in the field of healing, expecting it to show in the form of some special knowledge - if I only could find a way of drawing it our. Apparently systematic questioning was not the answer. There had to be another way.
The solution was simple, and on reflection quite obvious: I turned to Sulu with my problem. During our break I simply referred to the fact that he was a kleva and asked if he would tell me more about that, with the tape running. Much to my surprise he agreed, and when we sat down again on the floor in front of the fireplace for another session with the tape-recorder, all I had to do was prompt Sulu to begin his tale, and what followed, with little effort on my part, far surpassed my by now somewhat deflated expectations.
"The men that they call kleva", Sulu began. "Like me - they say that I'm like some. Now, first off - "
"Tell it in Kiai!" He'd started off in Bislama.
"Like, first off there was a man named Letelete. They went and buried him at Napotatora."
A vague memory linked him with an abandoned settlement halfway down the slope to the Ari from Truvos. "A Daiere man?"
"A ...Sursur man. He lived among the Sursur. He used to come and stay with the people at Vatparavu ... Usa Pon's house."
"Mhm. I had visited there - Usa seemed to spend more time at his garden house at Vatparavu than at Vorozenale since its completion at the end of my first field trip. He had told me that the place used to be settled in the past.
"Later he came and lived with ... like, he stayed at Kuvutana, and around these places. His place was down from Truvos. His daughter was Kavten's dead aunt (voitama, 'father's sister'). Now, he was a kleva. He used to go all over the place, on the road all the time. Then a snake coiled around his leg."
"Yes, the snake."
"Yes. Then, when he went home, when he got to the house and went to sleep, the snake, like, turned into a man. It came in the night. It came and spoke to him, saying" - Sulu's voice dropped perceptibly - "'If someone is ill, take this leaf of yours' ... Like, it spoke about leaves: 'Take this leaf of mine, then you' ..., he spat at them - he put spells on them."
"Mhm." A spirit teaching him his craft, just as Usa Pon had told me!
"He shook them like this." Sulu moved his right hand back and forth sideways in the air in front of him, just as I had seen him do at Ariau, only then with a bunch of leaves in his hand. "When through with spitting at them he put them on the man, and the man got well. Then, later, if another man's child was ill, Letelete's devel, like it now, it came again and said to him: 'That man whose child is ill, he is about to come here. When he arrives, tell him that his sick child has eaten a taro eaten by a rat' - or whatever - ' and he will get well'."
"Mhm." Sulu was back speaking in Bislama, sidestepping greater precision with that irritating devel label. Letelete's devel - it must be the snake, turned man - a spirit familiar, helping him in his work.
"That's how it works", said Sulu. "Me now - I'm like him."
"But I - like, he told me about it."
"Really?" So Sulu modeled himself on old man Letelete?
"Yes. That's how it works."
5.6 Sulu's gift
A short exchange followed, with Sulu suggesting that aeroplane pilots have a similar arrangement with some spirit familiar that helps them find their destination, and me establishing that Letelete`s was Kavten's father's father.
Remembering about the kleva allegedly learning their spells in dreams I tried to cue Sulu again with a question.
"Did you dream about it? No?"
"No - eh - yes! Like, I was following a track, when a piloiolo lizard - the green one - do you know the green lizard?"
"Yes." The Kuvutana children caught one once, hung it from a tree by a string around one leg, and used it for target practice with bow and arrow, until it lay dead on the ground, literally shot to pieces.
"It has a long body."
Next Sulu launched into a detailed account of twelve days' travel in the Santo interior as a carrier for a French geologist collecting rock samples from riverbeds two or three years ago. The lizard didn't enter the tale until Sulu and his friend Sepeti from Ariau were on their way home, following a track up the ridge that separates the Peolape from the Ari:
"We passed close to a rock - the one that Memei tell a story about. They call it ... Vurombotani."
"Mhm." I didn't know which rock Sulu meant. They were a common feature in tales I had recorded during my first field trip - nearly half of the stories mentioned some rock or other, and I knew the location of only a few of them.
"We got there, and a lizard fell down. It fell right out of a tree. The green one, with a long - it fell here on my head, then down on my foot, then it ran off like that." Sulu gestured with his hand. "It went over there, running away from you?' Like, it was running off now. I said: 'A lizard'. We carried on home; we got to Kuvutana. Then, when I went to sleep, its devel came and told me: 'Take this leaf ... '"
"... If a man, when he is ill, he comes, then I will tell you, and you will be able to say: "you have eaten a bit of food eaten by a rat", or whatever, which is why he is ill.'"
So that was the secret behind Sulu's seemingly instantaneous diagnoses! The spirit told him what had caused the illness - all he had to do was say it out loud, like Letelete. "Ah ... that's just like old man Letelete!"
"Yes", said Sulu, "he showed the way of doing it like that."
"Like when the two of us went to Linsus; we went to Vunpati to see Linsus. Then you, very fast - instantly - you saw what was wring with him, and you told us." Appropriately, Sulu had blamed a food-stealing rat at the time.
"Like, you saw it - the ... the ..." I hesitated, searching for a Kiai word for Sulu's helper. "Like, the ... eh ... tamate -"
"It told it to you?"
And then you told us?"
"Is that how it works?"
"That's how it works."
"And then I'll fetch the leaves, I'll use them to treat him with spells, and then he gets well," Sulu continued.
"And if he has two diseases, or three, then I'll fetch three leaves for them, and use them."
"Back home now, when you had just arrived in the New Hebrides, I alone was working."
"Yes. Mol Kleva, he works on the other side."
"Well, when people go to fetch him, half the time he goes with them, half the time he won't go ... He is angry (masulu)."
"He is angry because of some women. He says: 'They come asking for women, but they send none back.' They are angry because of that. But they are wrong, because many Kuvutana women have gone back there."
"They are angry; they ... they are angry."
"Time went by, and now I keep working. I travel to Ariau, I travel to ... But, like, there is only one thing behind it all; this thing that comes like that. When a man is about to come the next day - like he's coming for me - then this thing comes and says; 'When you go, they are' ... It doesn't say who, it says: 'They are looking for you there.'"
"That's all it says."
I was still not sure of how Sulu received these messages. "Like, you dream (poroporo) about it?"
"Yes", said Sulu.
"Is that how it is?"
"Yes ... Like I don't dream about it, they say it clearly, like in the daytime. But, like - I have gone to sleep, but they say it clearly, just like us talking now."
"They say: 'When you go, there is this man.' They don't say the name of the man - he'll just come. They say: 'Yes, they are already thinking about you, people everywhere. We - I don't know, but I think they will come for you.' Just like that."
"The old man, or what?" I was still curious about this devel or 'thing': vanu in Kiai; samtin in Bislama - Sulu had used all three words to refer to his mysterious aide. Usa Pon had said that some kleva learned their secrets from the spirit of a dead predecessor. Was Sulu`s helper perhaps Letelete's spirit? Sulu had started his explanation by talking about him, claiming the old man as his predecessor. "Old man Letelete?"
Yes, but it's not him. Just this thing, the lizard."
"But, like - "
I interrupted: "Ah - is it the lizard that comes and tells you about it?"
"Yes, it comes and says: 'Yes, when you go, the sick man ... I don't know who he is. When you go, I think he has eaten this thing, and it is making him ill.' Like that, simply."
"So when they arrive, you already know?"
"Mhm, I already know. But I just walk along, both of us going. When I arrive, then I say it, and like ... the man's illness, it just ends."
"Mhm." Mol Kleva and Sulu had indeed told me that disclosure of the cause of an illness will speed its end - much as the vavaulu confessions were said to stop the effects of wrongdoings.
Sulu kept on explaining: "It works like this. When I go, I say it, and it ends. Then I go and fetch the leaves for it, like ... When I return, I put a spell on them, then I give them to him, and he hits his body with them. He singes them in a fire. He singes them in a fire, he uses them, and then it ends."
"Uses them like this?" I stroked my body with an imaginary bunch of leaves, like I had seen done at Ariau. "They rub them on?"
"Yes. He ... just applies heat, applies heat here, to his heart." Sulu indicated his chest with one hand. "Like, he cold through to his fingers, over here" - another gesture - "all over; over here ... He is cold now; this place is as if his blood doesn't run - like it is still, and he is dying."
"I take the leaves, I hold them here, making his heart warm again, making his whole body so that ... his blood starts running again under his skin, and he gets well."
"The leaf just turns to ashes."
"All kinds of leaves, or only one?"
"Like the leaf of na pevu, or the leaf of something that is in ... in a book here." Sulu selected an issue from a pile of old National Geographic magazines that he had been studying ardently off and on since our arrival in our home, and pointed to a colour plate depicting many different plants. "Is this white people's custom, or whose?"
I leaned over to read the caption. "They are from ... South America."
"Yes, but this one" - pointed to a plant in a picture - "Like, I ... Others squeeze the juice out of its fruit, but I take its leaves."
"They heat them, and warm the man with them, so that he gets well."
I still wanted to hear more about the lizard messages. "But when the lizard arrives during the night, like ... you are asleep, but when it arrives, it comes - "
Sulu interrupted before I had time to finish my question: "It doesn't arrive the way a real man does. It comes ... outside only, and says: 'I think they will come for you. When you go, I think they'll say - you'll say that this here is making a child or a woman who has eaten it ill'."
"That's the way." Softly.
"So it is when you are asleep that it comes?"
"Mhm", said Sulu.
"Mhm." I paused to digest that, and to formulate another question. "But Mol Kleva, and ... ah ... eh ... " - the name eluded my memory for a moment - "Yet another man ... Patua! Are they just the same, or what?"
"Yes, just the same. But I don't know their way. But I - my way is like that."
5.7 Matalesi and avuavuti
Again Sulu raised the topic of his pilots, and how they find their way. After a short interchange I tried to steer the conversation back to kleva with another question. Though the Bislama term kleva had been adopted into Kiai, I suspected that there was also an indigenous name for Sulu and his colleagues.
"One thing. These kleva ... Kleva! Like, kleva is Bislama, but how do they say it in Kiai? Kleva."
"They say mo matalesi."
“Mo matalesi." `He (is a) matalesi'.
"I see." I knew mata to mean 'eye', and lesi to mean `see`. That made matalesi a 'see-eye' - a seer. It made sense. They were behaving like diviners, revealing what was hidden from others - the causes of disease, and the men behind patua attacks, adverse weather, and vezeveze. "And you, you are a matalesi? Matalesi."
Sulu just nodded silently.
"Well, I hear they say that Patua, he ... he ... If a bad man - a man who is angry and so - takes some vezeveze and throws them so that they hit some other man, I hear they say that Patua can take them out."
"Yes, that's true."
"And you too, - "
" - can you take them out? Have you ever done it, or not yet?"
"Not yet", said Sulu. Then, urgently, after a short pause: "But I do the other one, like this." He demonstrated with his hands on my arm the stroking with leaves that I had first seen Mol Kleva do at Tonsiki.
"Mhm? With leaves?"
"Yes. They call it avuavuti."
"Avuavuti?" Vuti on its own meant 'pull out' in Kiai.
"And when they avuavuti, what things are they pulling out?"
"Like bits of rat food, bits of lizard food."
"Like ... they remove the things that are making him ill - like blood, but it isn't blood. Like the spit of some bad thing that lives on the ground."
"Then the man's body gets well again."
I wanted to learn more about this. "Now, when you avuavuati ... I've seen Mol Kleva do it - I think he just uses Yellow Hibiscus leaves."
"Yes, maybe." Sulu sounded uncertain.
"Yellow Hibiscus leaves, or what leaves? I saw it up at Tonsiki. He was doing it to Piloi's wife. He did like this on her arms and legs." I demonstrated. "Then he ... when he ... like, he avuavuti."
"Then he wrapped it up and put it under his foot, like this." I tucked a fictitious leaf package under my toes.
"Yes", said Sulu.
"Like, he rolled it up and put it away. Then, another three leaves in his right hand and three in his left, he avuavuti again, rolled it up again, and put it under his foot. And so on. Later, when finished, I guess he just went and threw them away, or what?"
"He went and threw them away. It is just like that! They stay like that - he doesn't open them up. You just go and just throw them away."
"But all the bad things stay inside?"
By now Sulu appeared tired. He started telling me about doing avuavuti when we went to Ariau together in the past, but then just dropped the topic, as if he'd had enough of the interview:
"That's how it works. That's all."
I wasn't ready to stop just yet - I was still curious about Sulu's nocturnal encounters with the lizard spirit. Before, when I asked him if he dreamed about it, his reply had seemed ambiguous. But dreaming was likely a very different matter to him than to me - Maitui had spoken about it as the travels of the soul while the body lay asleep. Moreover, dreams were commonly taken as prophetic in Santo, and Sulu, with the rest of the kleva, had a reputation for dreaming.
I tried to get him to talk about dreaming - poroporo in Kiai - but with little success. Perhaps he took it for granted that I knew as much about it as he did. He didn't elaborate until I had professed my own ignorance.
"Like, I don't know how it works. I only know that I dream; I don't know where the dreams come from, or how. Do you know?"
"I don't know that. Like this only. When you sleep, when you go ... dreaming (vano ... poroporo); when ... Like this: if I go to Santo, then eventually we will go there, sometime."
"That's all there is to it."
"Like, when you dream, like you are - at night, like your body stays there, but your soul (mauri) is moving about? Or no?"
"I think so", said Sulu.
"Like, I don't know ..."
"Yes, I think it's like that. When you sleep, you dream, you move about."
"No, but you don't move about, like ... If you go to the place that you come from, then you will go there again. You'll go and see all the people at home. It's like that, I think."
Sulu seemed to be talking about dreams of the future, but I couldn't get him to expand on this. Instead I asked about his spirit familiar:
"But when - when you see this thing, eh ... if ... like ... like, tomorrow they'll come, they come to see you about illness. But during the night you see - like, you dream, but do you see the lizard then? Or do you see old man Letelete? Or do you see some other man? Or - "
"No, I don't see them, they just come and speak, saying: 'I think tomorrow, or the next day, some people will come here.' They ... they say - it'll say: 'Tomorrow or the next day someone will come here, for you, I think'."
"Mhm. But who say so?"
There was a note of irritation in Sulu's reply: "But I don't know, they just say it like that!"
"Like you just hear it?"
"Yes! I just hear it, like that. But they don't say who. Then, the next day I stay at home and the time goes by, until in the evening or the morning, when a man arrives, like it said. He says: 'My child's illness is like this ... I wanted to come and see you; let's go together and have a look!"
"Mhm." I was struck by the familiarity of what Sulu had been describing - I remembered the interminable requests for medicine that had kept me so busy in the field. "That's like me!"
"Mm", muttered Sulu.
Though it seemed about time to quit - we had been talking for nearly twenty minutes since our break - I had one last thing to verify with Sulu. I wanted to know who the kleva were, as I had had different lists from different people.
"There is not many of you, only a few. You, Mol Kleva, and Patua ... "
"And Mol Sale."
"Mol Sale, Vohia Vivis." The latter was his name before he became a mol.
"And Maloi", said Sulu.
"Yes, old man Maloi."
"Aha." I didn't know who he meant, though the name sounded vaguely familiar. "And a sixth: Kinglu .. ?"
"Like, I just hear that they say so. I don't really know ..." Then, all at once it sank in. Maloi was the man who had stopped Mol Sale's patua attacks on his neighbours with the aid of a charm to catch the killer! "Really - old man Maloi? Is he a matalesi?"
"Mhm", Sulu replied.
"Ah." That was it - enough. I leaned over and turned the tape-recorder off.
This time I was immensely more satisfied with the result of our talk. I had learned a lot in those last twenty minutes. I now had an explanation of Sulu's seemingly instantaneous diagnoses of illness - the diagnoses that according to Usa Pon set the kleva apart from other healers. They were not, as suggested by him - and by the term matalesi - the product of some special power to "see" the cause of the ailment. According to Sulu's tale the cause was revealed to him well in advance by the lizard spirit. All he had to do was announce it.
The lack of examination of his patients; of attention to their symptoms - what had initially led me to doubt Sulu's integrity, suspecting him of sheer pretence - now made sense. There was nothing to be gained by an examination; the matter was already settled beforehand.
The meagre results of our first discussion now also seemed less strange. I had simply misunderstood the nature of Sulu's "expertise". There was nothing in having a spirit familiar to teach you special spells and to reveal to you the causes of illnesses that disposed you particularly to know why certain foods were dangerous after maumau, or the several names of diseases. It was the causes of illness that mattered - generally polluted food in Sulu's account - but even in that sphere Sulu's involvement was primarily passive. he was merely a channel for information passed on to him in dreams.
I was also pleased to have gained some insight into the therapy that Sulu used on his patients - extracting foreign and pathogenic substances from their bodies, or warming them with heated leaves to stimulate the flow of blood that slowed down the cold of approaching death.
Moreover, it seemed from Sulu's account as if announcing the cause of the disease was in itself therapeutic. Just as with immorality, other causes of disease were only effective as long as they remained concealed, unspoken - to make them known robbed them of their power. And when every case of sickness was a riddle to be solved, a spirit helper that knew all the answers would be truly invaluable - hence the advantage of the kleva over other healers.
Hearing Sulu's story also changed my own attitude towards him and his craft. Up until then I had been skeptical, to the point of suspecting him to be thoroughly artful and insincere, cynically playing on the gullibility of his neighbours, with my finding confirmation of this view in each new display of his special skills. Now I was not so sure anymore - however fantastic, his tale seemed strangely genuine. I could now at least give him credit for a measure of self-belief. Rather than Sulu contriving to establish himself as a kleva, it seemed as if that choice hadn`t been his own. In his tale Sulu had been sought out by the lizard, not the other way around.
5.10 Patua's bisnes
That was the most rewarding of our tape discussions, in terms of my learning about Sulu and his colleagues and their craft. But we had other sessions following that one, working our way through a wide range of topics that I felt I had not yet come to grips with. I used to prepare for these sessions by reading through my notebooks from my past trips to Santo, organising the information I had collected so as to get an overview of what I had learned, and, by implication, what were the more glaring holes in my understanding of life in the Ari valley. Whatever still had me puzzled, I would bring up for Sulu to comment on, while recording the resulting conversations on tape.
And so, among other things, I questioned Sulu about the Pos and Noti replacement names that I had discussed with Maliu Kot at Tonvara. Sulu's response was more suggestive than informative.
"For talks (varavara), like this. When a man makes a ... bisnes, then he replaces the names of people who talk about changes. If you don't go, and I go, they give me a name."
"Mhm." The word bisnes made me prick up my ears. That is how they sometimes referred to the so-called Naked Cult in the valley - Zek's 'business'.
"Like, I go to talk now", continued Sulu.
"Like that; that's how they do these things."
"I see. Because I asked Maliu Kot if it was Zek's work. He said no, it was Patua's."
“He's the one who made a bisnes, and people kept talking like that!"
That took me by surprise. "Really! Just like Patua?"
"I haven't heard about that."
"Mhm. He just did it like that. He said: 'Now that we are talking I will give you names.' He did it like that."
"Yes", said Sulu.
"If somebody didn't go and talk, he didn't get a name; if he went and talked - "
"Then he got a name", filled in Sulu.
"Yes. Like this. If I follow you to Duria - "
" - or if there is three people, or four, going, they give us names."
"And then they keep to those names."
So Patua had made a 'business' of some sort, holding meetings at Duria, and changing the names of the people who came to them. What the meetings were about Sulu didn't tell me, and I didn't pursue the topic any further at the time. The answer would present itself during my one remaining visit to Santo.
Not long after that conversation Sulu volunteered that he too changed people's names: he renamed children, after curing them of illness with his maumau. He had changed the names of most of the little ones at Truvos, and also some from across the Ari - twelve children in all. His own son Lino, who first had been named after Popoi Trivu, and Lisa's Maritino, whose 'shell` was Pune Tamaravu, were among those so renamed.
5.11 The end of patua
I also asked Sulu to tell me about patua. In response he completely took over that tape session, making long and passionate speeches, sometimes talking so fast in his excitement that I could barely make out what he was saying. Clearly the topic was one where Sulu had strong opinions.
"They talk about patua. They say: 'How did patua come?' They belong to the white people. Like, the men of ... of a place down - the hill where Mol Ato lives; they call it Ravoa.'
"Mhm." I knew of the village, about two thirds of the way to the South Coast from Truvos.
"The people of that place, they bought them from the white people."
"They bought them down on the coast. They said: 'Take those things with you up home and leave them by a banyan tree.' Well, they left them by a banyan tree, and they stayed there. Only the men that have taken them, they go there. Well, today they say: 'If a man has taken patua, he should say so. He should say: "I have taken patua." Then, when he has told about it, he should throw his patua away. He shouldn't take them ever again.'"
"Yes. That's what they say."
"Like he ...he ...he confesses it?" I used the word vavaulu.
"Yes. He says: I have taken patua"
"Then: 'It is better if I leave my patua be.' But some of them don't own up. Then, nowadays, they say like Maliu Tin, they say: 'Leave the patua be. Let's not take them again.'"
"Mhm. Maliu Tin?" I knew him as a frequent orator, considered half crazy by several of his neighbours because of his often only partly coherent speeches on moral issues, but I had not heard him speak out against patua.
"Yes. They just say like that."
"Well, the men that take patua, they kill people with them. It would be good if we let the patua be, and lived without them. Don't take patua again! And you men who have taken them, you own up, and leave them be! You take your patua and burn them!"
"Mhm ... Really? They'll burn them?"
"Yes. That's what Maliu Tin says."
"They say: 'Let's burn those patua, or what shall we do with them?' And they keep saying so, but the people don't admit to their patua."
"Mhm..." I could see the problem ... "They don't admit to them?"
"No," said Sulu. "Like, Maliu Tin keeps saying so; I keep saying so. I say: 'You men who have taken patua, let's get them and throw them away! No more killing of people with them!'"
"It is bad. Like ... if it goes on, there will not be any people left at home. They kill the children, they kill everybody. It would be good if the men who have taken patua owned up, saying: 'I have taken patua.' But they don't own up, those who have matea."
"If they own up, they'll burn them, or what? What will they do?"
"I don't know, I hear that they tell a story about it. They say that when a man takes matea, he ... as soon as he's seen them, he can't talk about it. Because the matea say a charm. A charm for the man. Like, if you take them, they tell their charm to you. Like this. When you are roaming about, if you go and wake up a man with a gun, and they shoot you. When they've shot you there is no wound, as you made it stop. Because they have taught you the leaf for it."
"Mhm." I was reminded of the tale of Mol Sale's nightly roamings about Moruas in the shape of an owl. All the attempts to shoot him had failed - clearly only to be expected, according to what Sulu had just told me.
"I have heard that that's how it works", he went on. "Well, it would be good if they were let alone. People shouldn't take them."
"Those things are bad!"
"Yes." Sulu paused for a moment before continuing. "I think the white people gave them away, so that when the black people are gone, the white people will take the land."
"Yes. Am I wrong, or ..? I think it's like that! That's my idea; I think so."
5.12 Patua attack
After that revelation Sulu gave a long, detailed account of how a patua attack proceeds, from start to finish: the witch setting out at dusk, spraying charmed coconut juice on the track on his way; throwing a little black basket (kereitana) over the house where the prospective victim lies asleep, so that no one inside will wake up; cutting the victim open, removing the innards and replacing them with leaves; leaving the victim to die on a specified day.
Later, the witch drinks the sap of the mata vine, Sulu explained. At first I couldn't understand why.
"Why does he drink the mata vine?"
"Because he had done you. Because you have died then."
"Mhm." I still don't understand.
"He drinks the mata vine so that it makes him well, and he stays alive. So that he and his matea can do some man again someplace."
"I see. Like, like - no, I don't understand! He drinks the sap of the mata vine so that ...like,,,,, like ... he has done one man, then why does he drink the sap? He - "
Sulu interrupted my confusion: "He drinks it because, if he drinks it, he won't get ill."
"He won't get ill!?"
"Yes, like ... because he has done you. If he doesn't drink the mata vine, like his patua have taught him ... He drinks the mata vine, and coconuts. He makes himself well like that, so he won't get ill because he has done you - like, in punishment for it. The punishment won't strike him, as he has stopped it like that, as he drinks the bit of vine and he drinks the coconut."
"He drinks them then, like the patua's leaf that they have taught him. When he has drunk them, he is well again."
"Yes. That's what it is like."
"I see. Because if he doesn't drink it, he will get ill, like in punishment for it?"
"Yes! Then he gets ill, when he gets ill."
"Mhm. Really." I recognised the theme: illness following in the wake of immorality. But apparently a witch enjoyed immunity against these consequences, through use of the mata vine.
"Yes. Well, I keep thinking in my head that those things should finish. And there is still another thing they do: they vezeveze. Like, point number one I have just finished telling you about. Well, now, point number two, like I keep telling them, I say: 'The men who vezeveze, and the men who take kava root and so' - the root that they put a spell on and they kill people with, they bury in the way of people - 'they should stop.'"
"Mhm." I had heard odd references to that form of sorcery in the past: people burying objects in the path of an enemy, to kill him.
"They shouldn't vezeveze. Nowadays the men that do those things are dying out."
"Me now, when we killed the fowls, I told them."
"Really?" Late during my first field trip Sulu had staged a ceremony to commemorate the first cutting of his son Lino's hair - years into the past by then, to be sure, but better late than never. They called it mele i toa: 'mele with fowls', and fifteen fowls were indeed killed that day. This must be when Sulu spoke out publicly against sorcery, though at the time it had passed me by.
"Yes, I told them. I said: 'You men who vezeveze, don't do it. You men who take the kava root and kill people with it, don't do it. If you take the kava root, and have to go to gavman, and gavman finds out about it, you will go to prison for it.'"
Sulu went on to tell me about a young Narango man who used such kava root sorcery on an older man, after eloping with his daughter. The old man became ill, and the affair was reported to gavman - to the authorities at Canal. As a result the young man was sent to prison for eighteen months.
"Well, those things should end", Sulu continued. "Like they - when we go and talk, gavman and people everywhere say the same over in the New Hebrides. They say like the people next to them; their talk is the same. Well, I have heard it, what they say. I say the same; we all agree. And the Duria people, Krai Tui, he says the same."
"They say that those things are bad. They shouldn't be done anymore."
"Yes. The way of things of the past is bad. In the past, they say, they shot people. Well, if you were angry with someone, you would take them; you would bury them in the way of whoever shot your brother, so that he would die because of it. Well, those things they have finished, so the kava roots there, just leave them be then."
"And the same with patua. People shouldn't take them anymore."
"Some of the people who take patua do like this. If you have taken patua, and you have a son, you climb up and pick a coconut. This way. Climb up and pick the coconut. Don't throw it down, but climb with it to the ground. Say a spell - cut a hole in it and say a spell, and give it to your child to drink it all. Well, now your child will take patua. That's how they do it. Well, on the day when we killed the fowl, we killed the fowl, and I spoke up, when you were sitting next to Lino, you and Tion - Aru Tun. When we were talking. I said: 'Those things; no one should do them. Because the children are growing up. If you keep doing them, this place will die out.'"
"Mhm." I couldn't recall the situation, though it sounded like Sulu was describing the talk around the kava bowl following the ceremony, with most of our neighbours from the upper Ari valley there - about ninety people in all, waiting for the ovens to be opened.
"Because that white people's way that only arrived of late has spread everywhere, and is finishing off the place", went on Sulu. "Well, then the white people will take our home."
Shortly after I took advantage of its topicality to ask Sulu about vezeveze.
"I don't know the way of vezeveze. Like, I hear that they talk about vezeveze. I don't know how it works. Like - "
Sulu interrupted: "The way of vezeveze ... The way of vezeveze ... The men who have them - we don't know half the people who have them. Like this. When we go to a feast, when we have eaten, and it is getting dark. Then they see where your place is that you are lying down on there."
"Well, they go and cut some tree fern spikes. Then they come in the night and throw them up onto the roof of your house."
"When they have said the spells they throw them up onto the roof of the house, and they fall down and pierce your body."
"When they have pierced your body, if there is someone who can pull them (avuavuti), he will pull them out. If not, then you'll die."
I asked Sulu how people acquire vezeveze. At a place called Levos, he told me, and started in on a tale of mighty vezeveze wielders of a past generation, who went there to learn their deadly craft. He described the place:
"A rock; a big rock, like this house."
"A big rock."
"It stands there, and they go down there to take them. Then, like they see a lizard. They see a lizard or a snake there. Then it instructs them about the vezeveze that they kill - they veze people with."
"I see." A lizard or snake spirit, perhaps, like Sulu's and Letelete's familiars?
"Do they learn from the lizard - "
"Yes!" he interrupted. "Like, they see them there. They see them on the rock, as it climbs on the rock. Then they veze with them."
I also brought up the tale I had heard about Lulu being a victim of vezeveze:
"I hear that they say that Lulu, he ... I think he had a sore tooth, or what? I think his tooth - "
" - was sore. He went to the people ... people of where? People of ... "
"Zaraparo, yes. Well, a man, he ... What did he do? I think he took it out. Yes, he took it out; he took a stone out."
"You know, in the recent past they veze people with stones, and with nails that they went and bought from white people."
"Aha. Well, the man who took it out said that ... Vohia Vivis - "
"Yes, Vohia Vivis." This was another name for Mol Sale.
"Yes, that is true", said Sulu. "The people in the mountains are afraid of Vohia Vivis."
"He has got bad things."
"He's just got vezeveze, or - "
"We didn't make it up!" Sulu sounded offended at my implicit suggestion. "We've just heard that they say so. We haven't seen it."
"We haven't seen it. We have heard that they say so - the people of his place. Because when they lived at Moruas ... they say he kept killing them."
I was quite pleased with our talk. I had learned more about patua, such as the details of transmissions of the familiars, and the special techniques with which witches defended themselves against being shot, and against the sickness that normally would follow in the wake of such flagrant immorality as killing another person. I now also understood thoroughly how strongly Sulu and his neighbours felt about witchcraft. He had spoken about it as a threat to their survival as a community. If people didn't give up witchcraft and sorcery the place would die out, and their home would be taken by the white people. Sulu and other preached ridding the area of patua. Predictably, the method proposed was disclosure, perhaps hoping the power of the patua would wane with the secrecy gone.
That was the last of the recordings we made - except for a short farewell that Sulu spoke into the tape machine on his own, the day before our departure from Auckland. Our three months in New Zealand were up; it was time to return to Santo for a final four months of fieldwork in the Ari valley.
Though there was a lot of food for thought in what Sulu had told me during our tape sessions, the significance of some of the more subtle details of his narrative passed me by at the time - there was not time to stop in mid-conversation and ponder the full implications of all that he said. Not until much later, after the end of my final visit to Santo, did I get a chance to think it over, as I sat down to listen to the tapes, transcribing and translating into English the parts that seemed relevant to my investigation.
Despite this time lag in my assimilating fully the new information collected, my time with Sulu in New Zealand spawned a major re-evaluation of him and his craft. Rather than thinking of him as an authoritative expert on diseases and methods of healing - a view perhaps projected from my own self-image when dealing with the sick - I saw him instead a fellow human with similar problems to my own in making sense out of a loose and partly inconsistent verbal tradition. It meant having to cope with a variety of versions and explanations of disease and death - often in terms of phenomena not easily accessible to direct scrutiny - and still come up with some workable compromise, while recognising that a lot of it was only surmise. Sulu simply didn't know all the answers, and readily admitted it.
Though I now had realised the personal and intuitive nature of Sulu's special skills, I still recognised the marks of tradition. His way as a kleva was his own - he didn't know if Mol Kleva and Patua operated the same way - but Sulu explicitly modeled himself on the old man Letelete, explaining the work to me the way that Letelete explained it to him in his tale.